WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama welcomed the 2016 NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers to the White House on Thursday for a celebratory visit on the South Lawn, saying the team’s June championship victory embodied Obama’s campaign slogan.
“That’s what we’re talking about when we talk about hope and change,” Obama said.
The Cavaliers are the first Cleveland team to earn a major league title since the Browns won the NFL championship in 1964; they also are the first NBA champions to overcome a 3-1 deficit in the finals.
An ardent Chicago Bulls fan, the president congratulated the team for defeating the Golden State Warriors, which also had an NBA record-setting season.
“By knocking off the Warriors, they cemented the 1996 Bulls as the greatest team of all time,” he joked.
Obama named each player on the team, highlighting the different contributions each made during the season.
At one point, he even teased J.R. Smith — who went shirtless for much of his post-championship celebrating — for wearing a shirt to the ceremony.
“J.R. Smith’s shirt has shown up,” he said. “I wasn’t sure it was going to make an appearance today. I’m glad you came. You’re a very nice shirt.”
At the close of the ceremony, Kevin Love presented the president with a personalized No. 16 Cavaliers jersey — the first sleeve-styled jersey he’s received from a team. Although grateful, Obama joked that the sleeves would be an issue.
“These sleeves get tight,” Obama quipped. “Can I tear these out? Can I rip ‘em?”
“I’ll show you. I’ll show you exactly how I do it,” responded LeBron James, who ripped his sleeves off during the season.
The Cavaliers’ visit on Thursday afternoon came after President-elect Donald Trump’s morning meeting with Obama to discuss the presidential transition.
Although the election was not mentioned during the ceremony, both James and Smith — who appeared Sunday with former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in Cleveland — have expressed frustration on social media about the results of the election.
Even though some have criticized athletes for taking political stances, Coach Tyronn Lue told reporters after the event that players should have the opportunity to express their views.
“Whatever you believe in, whatever you support, you have a right to do that,” he said.